Minister’s labour law comments irk unions

Sweden's unions are furious at how the country's migration minister has reacted to revelations about abuses related to a new law on labour migration.

Minister's labour law comments irk unions
Swedish Migration Minister Tobias Billström in a file photo

Unions have long called the legislation “idiotic” and believe migration minister Tobias Billström is out of touch with reality in his understanding of conditions faced by immigrant labourers in Sweden.

“He has shown that he lives in a world where the law is an idea that may perhaps work on paper. It does not look like this in reality,” Ella Niia, the chairwoman of the Hotel & Restaurant Workers Union (Hotell och Restaurang Facket) said of Billström to the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

The dispute comes following recent reports by DN revealing that that the new law on labour migration has led to abuses, such as a black market for work permits and employees working under slave-like contracts who are dependent on their employers to stay in Sweden.

On Monday, the minister promised to re-examine the law, saying he would seek input from the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), as well as trade unions and employers’ associations.

In addition, Billström also pledged to work with the National Tax Agency (Skatteverket), Work Environment Authority (Arbetsmiljöverket) and the police to root out unscrupulous employers who are abusing the labour migration law.

While promising to review the law, Billström also rejected claims that the law provided work permits to workers in sectors where unemployment was already high.

“It’s easy to say that people are out of work, but there are also jobs that no one wants,” he told DN.

Billström added that clamping down on labour migration wouldn’t “suddenly mean that a bunch of people would go out into the forest and pick berries,” holding firm that “our principles work well.”

“Employers are best able to determine what competence is needed to ensure that a job gets done,” he said.

Billström also explained that the law’s intention is to help employers find staff with specialised skills, such as Indian chefs.

However, Niia pointed out that those kinds of applications are the furthest from what the unions are receiving.

“We are not opposed to those kinds of employment. However, one does not need to look overseas to find restaurant workers,” she said.

Other union representatives reacted angrily to Billström’s comments, which came despite a high unemployment rate in the restaurant industry.

“It is questionable whether there really is a need for migrant labour when we have a large amount of available manpower at our doorstep,” said Anders Bergsten, ombudsman for union and political issues at the Swedish Building Maintenance Workers’ Union (Fastighetsanställdas förbund).

Billström emphasised that anyone who loses his or her job after filing a complaint about abuses has three months to find a new job in Sweden and took into account that many of these workers are afraid, do not speak Swedish and have no other contacts than their employers.

“It is absurd,” said Niia.

“The labour market is already tough for Swedes. How can those from other countries dare to protest?”

She added that she hopes Billström will admit that the law was a bad idea.

“He was the one who pushed this law through and he must act now,” she said.

The comments didn’t sit will with union representatives.

According to Samuel Engblom, lawyer for the TCO union, three adjustments to the current regulations would make it more difficult to deal with work permits: making job offers legally binding, undertaking reviews employer conduct and verifying with the tax authority that employers actually pay the correct salaries and social fees.

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‘Ask Obama about Gitmo and labour’: opposition

Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven has said the government must address the US-run prison Guantanamo Bay prison during the upcoming visit to Sweden by US President Barack Obama.

'Ask Obama about Gitmo and labour': opposition

“We of course have questions about Guantanamo and privacy questions following Snowden,” Löfven told the TT news agency. “These are very important questions that should be discussed between countries that have good relations.”

While the government announced on Thursday that it would not release any further details of Obama’s upcoming visit at present, Swedish political scientist Jan Joel Andersson told The Local this week that it was unlikely that the prison camp on the US Naval Base in Cuba commonly referred to as “Gitmo” would be discussed, although Stockholm does have human rights concerns concerning the US.

Löfven, meanwhile, also took the opportunity to praise the the US president for his focus on restoring American industry, and spurring the growth in employment.

“He talks about re-industrializing the US, creating jobs and hope for the future,” Löfven said. “Ahead of the G20 meeting, it is important to have a strategy for jobs creation and to make sure that the global economic benefits everyone, not like it is today with big imbalances.”

Löfven said the Swedish model, based on the Saltsjöbaden Deal penned in 1938 between employers and trade unions, could serve as inspiration for an international agreement between workers and capital owners.

READ MORE: <a href="” target=”_blank”>Did SAS crisis talks undermine ‘Swedish model’?

“It would be great if Obama could put on the yellow jersey in this discussion,” Löfven said, urging the Swedish prime minister not to shy away from the topic on the American stop-over in Stockholm in September.

TT/The Local/at

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